Maybe Nobody’s Right?

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

Wasted potential is a terrible tragedy and this could not be more true when it comes to those who squander their potential in the church. Consider two common examples we find in many congregations today. There may be an older man who uses the respect, earned by his lengthy life experiences, as a platform to give strong opinions— disguised as gospel truth. Or, what about the young woman who has been labeled as a liberal? She has these new and fresh ideas, but many aren’t Divinely authorized in scripture.

Both of these individuals could not be any different, yet both have caused severe damage in their local church families. The older man clearly has a commanding presence. When he speaks, people will listen. What a gift! He could build up and strengthen the church in numerous ways— if he put his mind to it. He owns the power of persuasion, a talent others deeply desire. The young woman also has talent. She’s outspoken, energetic, and inspiring to many of her peers. She’s loving, gentle, and full of life. With so much to offer, how could she throw it all away by pushing her modern, but unbiblical views?

The elderly may argue that the problems we find in the church today are on account of young minds with liberal beliefs. The younger generation have become disenchanted with “church” because they believe it’s outdated, hypocritical, legalistic, and impossibly demanding. While there is truth to be found on both sides of the fence, it’s also true that talent is a tool that is often misused.

The elderly bring experience and wisdom. The young bring energy and enthusiasm— though I do acknowledge that these stereotypes may occasionally be seen in members of both groups. If there are thoughtless accusations, without thoughtful solutions, you end up with a congregation full of members fighting for the spoon which stirs the pot. A serious solution can only be scriptural. After all, God made people and He knows how to fix them.

Maybe we need to go back to those basic and foundational principles that we find in that thriving first century church. Despite adversity and an overwhelming hostile environment, they had Jesus’ power over the world (John 16:33). Since this is the case, may we never fool ourselves into believing the lie that the strange darkness of our time is too dark for The Light that is Christ. When this poison is digested, the devil smirks, and droves of people stumble into eternity unprepared all on account of a literal and tragically damning lie.

God has allowed us to discover hope, experience growth, and uncover a calming peace when simple Christianity is practiced. It’s this beautiful simplicity that makes God’s will a rewarding journey to seek and follow. The power of God can turn a struggling congregation into a thriving one, but there must be a radical transformation in the heart of each individual that makes up that Body. It’s radical, but it’s not complicated. It will take prayer, a reliance on God, courage to act, and a willful determination to follow Jesus wherever He goes (Luke 9:57-62).

So where do we begin? With a dedication to the understanding of Him, and those made in His image.

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Unity Between The Old And The Young

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

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Gary Pollard

An engine needs three things to run: fuel, spark, and air (compression). Engines have come a very long way since their initial designs and unless you’re driving an e-car, these items still have to be in place and tuned properly. I’m partial to older engines simply because they’re easy to understand and work on. 

When diagnosing a problem, you can often tell if you’re getting fuel by looking at the in-line filter or simply smelling for it. You can tell if you’re getting spark by disconnecting a plug, grounding it to the body, and looking for a spark. You can tell if you have compression by sticking your finger over a plug-hole and turning the engine over. The older engines were simple. 

Newer engines are far more difficult. They operate under the same basic rules, but computers and fuel injection systems and tight spaces make it much harder to work on them. However, they are generally more reliable, fuel efficient, and powerful. Carl’s 1986 F-150 with a 351 Windsor (5.9L V8) has about half the power (and a third of the fuel economy) of his 2017 F-150 with a 2.7L Ecoboost, for example. 

The church is made up of more than just one generation. There are both old people and young people. Both are prone to emphasizing the strengths or weaknesses of their generation when it comes to the health of the church. Young people might complain that old people move too slowly (getting things done), are too traditional, and have no place in the future of the church. Old people might complain that young people are too quick to change things, don’t take church seriously, and are self-centered. 

Both generations are vital to the health of the church. The elderly bring experience, toughness, and proven life experience to the table. They’ve been through it, they’ve seen it, and they got through it. Younger Christians must learn from this experience and show older Christians the love and respect they deserve. Younger Christians bring energy, enthusiasm, and a willingness to execute vision to the table. As stated before, modern engines still have the critical components of older engines at the heart of their function. They may be more efficient, but would not be operational without those functions. 

When the church works together, older and younger alike, to promote growth, unity, and faithfulness, the result is awesome. No other group can enjoy that kind of peace! A church that works together will influence the world in ways that terrify satan. Not only is this something we should want, it’s also commanded (I Timothy 5.1; Romans 12.10; See also Leviticus 19.32; Proverbs 16.31). 

In a polarized world, we can really make a difference when we’re loving and respectful to everyone in our spiritual family. It is a breath of fresh air to anyone who experiences it, it proves the church is from God, and it will save lost souls. 

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My brothers and me with Ela Beth and George Bailey at Polishing the Pulpit, 2008

The Tender Tears Of The Timeworn Travelers

Neal Pollard

I suppose I have met more than a few elderly people, including some professing to be Christians, who could be described as “crusty,” “crotchety,” “contrary,” and “curmudgeonly.” These no doubt spent decades developing such a winning personality. But one of the greatest blessings I have received as a member of the church and minister of the gospel is my association and friendship with “senior saints.” Through the years, I have discussed with them the subject of worship. The most frequent topic of that is how precious that public time of communing is to them.

A godly widow recently told me she has spent the last two years focusing more intently on concentrating more on the song service, reflecting on the words and their meaning. Songs she has sung for decades, through this exercise, have become almost like new songs to her. Another older woman, married to an elder, talked about how she finds herself much more apt to be tearful in worship these days. She’s almost embarrassed at how emotional the experience of worship is making her. An elderly man who was a longtime elder and recently passed on to paradise, struggled to pray, sing, or publicly speak in worship without being choked with emotion. I could fill pages of writing about other godly Golden Agers who treasure assembling to worship God. Their hearts are full and their emotions engaged. Their voices may be softened and broken by age, but their spirits are stronger than ever.

When I think of these faithful, aged Christians, I am reminded of Paul’s words: “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18).  Sometimes, the elderly are made scapegoats of alleged “lifeless” or habitual, but heartless worship. No doubt, there are likely Christians in that age range who struggle with and even fall prey to such (as there is in every other age category). But on the whole, these Christians have walked longer with God, know Him better, and value Him more than their younger counterparts. They are closer on the journey to the Father’s house and are anxious to see His face.

We are heirs of a heartfelt heritage handed to us by these holy hoary heads. To our seasoned brothers and sisters, we thank you for showing us how to walk with and love God as years turns into decades and the shadow of the grave looms larger. As we narrow the gap between our age and yours, we want worship and life in Christ to grow more precious to us, too. Thank you for your trembling lips, your tear-stained cheeks, and your tender hearts. They look great on you!

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A SWEET OLD PERSON

Neal Pollard

Today, I talked with some godly, sweet, and loving elderly people.  They are people I respect and admire.  They are full of rich memories, have vast experience, and profound wisdom.  You are drawn to them.  The people I’m referring to are neither superhuman nor necessarily those whose lives have been easier. Their sweetness is a product of their good attitudes.  Not every elderly person I talk to are those I’d consider godly, sweet, or loving.  They are bitter, rude, mean-spirited, selfish, and even, at times, belligerent. While dementia might transform the occasional person’s personality, there is a simpler explanation for how some old people get to be unpleasant. They were that way when they were younger.

Life is about the sum total of the choices we make, the way we bend our will, and our reaction to the adversities of our lives.  We are building character, one day at a time, one reaction at a time.  As I think about it, I know some godly, sweet, and loving children, teens, young adults, and middle-agers. I also know too many who are none of these things. If they live long enough, they’ll grow into more hardened, exaggerated forms of themselves.  Gossips can become worse gossips in the golden years because they may have more time and have had more practice. Grouches seem to grow worse with time and opportunity.  The impure of heart, after years of harboring filth, allow it to spill over far more often in words and deeds (how many of us have encountered a “dirty old man”—a more elderly form of the “dirty young man”).  Worriers in youth make fretful worriers in the twilight time of life. So many traits of character and attitude in the old have been in the making in the young.

In Psalm 119:9, David asks, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.” Solomon saw among the youths a young man lacking sense (Prov. 7:7). He also counseled one to remember his creator in days of youth (Ecc. 12:1). God can be our confidence from our youth (Psa. 71:5). These and so many other admonitions aimed at those in days of youth will also protect and preserve those who reach old age.  What can I do to make sure I am a sweet old person?

  • Be intentional.  Take steps to be sweet.  It’s not many people’s natural mode of operational.  Spending much time with God and learning to imitate Him helps with this.
  • Be introspective. Take time and effort to examine yourself. Are you ill-tempered, impatient, easily irritated, easily put out, and the like?  Warning!  You’re well on your way to being a crotchety curmudgeonly coot!
  • Be interested. Selfishness is behind those traits that lead one to be unpleasant in the winter of life. Be genuinely, actively interested in the welfare, needs, and interests of others.  Taking the focus off self will aim you toward sweetness.

We could probably think of more suggestions, but here’s a good start.  Surely, we’d all like to be sweet old people when the day comes.  But, don’t wait! Start now!

IT’S NEVER TOO LATE!

 

Neal Pollard

Ask George Dawson!  This Texas grandson of a slave, born in 1898, worked from the age of twelve on a ranch tending livestock.  He married at the age of twenty-eight, becoming a father the next year.  What is so noteworthy about this man?  Well, for 98 years he did not know how to read.  In 1996, ten years after the death of his spouse, a young man working for an organization designed to teach adults how to read knocked on Dawson’s door.  He was able to achieve a fourth-grade reading level and even read the Bible aloud at church services.  He summed up his remarkable story by saying, “I just figured if everybody else can learn to read, I could too” (Bingham, Reader’s Digest, June 1998, p. 156).

Ask Medzhid Agayev, who was the oldest resident in Azerbaijan in 1976.   He decided to retire—after 120 years as a shepherd at the age of 139!  The Russian press agency in Novosti said, “He is in good health.  He is thin, active and has excellent eyesight.”  Perhaps he quit his job to enjoy as many of his 150 children and generations of grandchildren as he could.  He was a tribute not only to longevity, but also to changing one’s life even after such a period of time as Agayev had lived.  Yet, he was a baby compared to a 165-year-old man named Shirali Muslimov and a 195-year-old woman named Ashura Omarova, both reported by the Novosti press agency in 1970 as living in the Soviet Union republics of Caucasus (what today is Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia)( The Centenarian Question: Old-Age Mortality in the Soviet Union, 1897 to 1970, Lea Keil Garson,Population Studies, Vol. 45, No. 2 (Jul., 1991), p. 265).

Many Bible characters, Abraham and Sarah (Gen. 18:11-15), Barzillai (2 Sam. 17:27ff), Jacob (Heb. 11:21), Anna (Lk. 2:36), and others teach by their lives that it is nevertoo late to be servant of God.  The foolish may set aside the counsel of the “gray heads” (cf. 1 Kgs. 12:6ff), but the Lord’s church today will carefully consider the wisdom of her senior saints!  Age may bring limitations, but the aged are among the most precious resources we have for spiritual strength and progress!  It is never too late for an elderly Christian to be a viable contributor to the life and work of the church.  In fact, Paul puts such on a high pedestal (Ti. 2:1-10).

It is also never too late to become a Christian!  This is true, whether one is eighteen, eighty, or any time before, between, or after.  Almost is after (Acts 26:28), later is a lie (Acts 24:25), and waiting is a wager few win (Prov. 27:1).

In youth we anticipate the stability of adult life as the time when becoming a Christian will be easier.  With adulthood comes, marriage, children, and job concerns, and retirement becomes a more appealing time to obey the gospel.

Three potential tragedies await those who bank on the elusive capital of tomorrow.  First, old age may find one too distracted with golden year goals to make the commitment to Christ.  Second, death may stand between one and the time he or she hoped to be a baptized believer.  Third, Christ may come before one submits to the Lord’s plan.

However, now—being the accepted time (2 Cor. 6:2)—is not too late!  Are you still breathing in and out?  Is there still within you a heart soft enough to be touched by the power of the gospel?  If so, it is not too late!  As long as there is time and opportunity, it is never too late to do all the will of God!

Your eyes may be cloudy, a halt may slow your gait.
But as long as your soul is within you, it is never, no never too late.
The years you may have wasted, and in shame you might hesitate,
But though it be the eleventh hour, it is never, no never too late.
–NP

JAMIE MOYER AND PERRY COTHAM

Neal Pollard

Kathy and I went with Wes and Teri Autrey to the baseball stadium Tuesday night to watch the Colorado Rockies take on the San Diego Padres.  Not only did I know the potential history on the table, I was hoping I had not been getting my hopes too high.  The Rockies starting pitcher that evening was Jamie Moyer.  The significance of this fact is known, especially now, to even a great many non-baseball fans.  For the rest of you, Moyer was 49 years and 151 days old when he took the mound.  When Rafael Betencourt finally recorded the third out of the ninth inning for the save, Mr. Moyer became the oldest pitcher in the storied annals of baseball history to earn a victory.  At this point early in the season, he is the most effective pitcher on the Rockies’ roster.  According to statisticians, his slowest pitch was a 67 mile per hour curve ball and his fastest was a 79 mile per hour “fast” ball.  For non-baseball fans, that is s-l-o-w.  He has always pitched that way.  Steady.  Crafty.  Consistent.  Patient.  Successful.

I remember when Tillit S. Teddlie turned 100 in 1985, a song writer in the Lord’s church whose songs included “Don’t Wait Too Long,” “Heaven Holds All To Me,” “In Heaven They’re Singing,” “What Will Your Answer Be?,” and many, many others we have sung in worship.  As a teenager, I was awed and thought of him as the epitome of longevity.  Brother Teddlie lived to be 102.

But as a preacher, my picture of an enduring “legend” among preachers is Perry Cotham.  About the time I remember the birthday celebration for brother Teddlie, the church where my dad preached had brother Cotham for a gospel meeting.  The Texas evangelist had to be in his early 70s, and as such already ancient in my young mind.  I heard tales of his mission trips to India, Malaysia, and Thailand.  He told of his debates with Pentecostals and others.  His lessons were filled with Bible and interesting stories.  I have maintained contact with him through the years and have spoken with him on several programs.  In 2008, we were together in Calaveras County, California, preaching at a campground (the late William Woodson was also there; we roomed together at the same house).  He was 96 at the time, and after hearing his preaching all weekend two adult women responded to be baptized.  My last information is that brother Cotham is still preaching, though his health has declined.  He is 100 years old!

As much as I enjoy baseball, I love preaching.  As great as Moyer’s feat was, brother Cotham’s eclipses it.  What a reminder to us that it is not our age, but our willingness to keep on going however long we have serving the Lord with all of our might!